No matter the city they inhabit, fans of a band like to believe they’re the band’s favorites, the most beloved from other crowds just like them world-over. The things the band Dawes has said about or done in Houston might give local followers the impression we have a special relationship, one we get to rekindle when Dawes returns to Houston this Sunday at Heights Theater.
Taylor Goldsmith, the band’s front man, confirmed we do share a significant bond. Aside from making thoughtful and evocative music, creating and nurturing that fan base - in Houston and elsewhere - is something Dawes has done especially well over nearly a decade. Goldsmith recently discussed with Houston Press those key relationships, how dirty bowls can help us engage those we disagree with and why Bruce Springsteen keeps him and his band humble as they continue to make impressive strides in music.
Because it seems Dawes loves us best, we start with Houston. The band played a rare and free set with The Suffers in the cozy confines of Continental Club in May, following a rain-out of their planned headlining set at Great Texas Barbecue Fest. When it returned to Houston to open for Electric Light Orchestra at Toyota Center in August, the band spent its afternoon rubbing elbows with fans at Cactus Music.
“It seems like more of a music town than people talk about, at least in terms of the energy from fans and shows,” Goldsmith said of Houston. “We were on tour for a month opening for ELO and I can say pretty confidently that the rest of the band would agree with me that Houston was our favorite set. Not because of us playing any better necessarily but just because of the reaction. I feel like Houston has always embraced us and supported us in a way that is just singular and unique. And, you know, it doesn’t go unnoticed. So that does create a closeness.”
“That Continental show, it’s funny because we were supposed to play that day at the barbecue and it didn’t happen. Everyone kept telling me that same joke - if you don’t like the weather in Houston just wait five minutes,..but it’s like, well, then why’d you book us to play outdoors?!” Goldsmith continued. “But, we’d flown all that way, there were some people looking forward to it and, selfishly, we were too. I mean, we wanted to rock out and pick up our guitars and make a lot of noise. So, the fact that the Continental could happen, the fact that we could do it with The Suffers, that really meant a lot to us.”
Dawes seems as comfortable playing in a 20,000-seat arena like Toyota Center as they do in a 500-person room like Heights Theater.
“The bigger difference is playing for a crowd of people that don’t know you versus playing for a crowd of people that do. Both pose a different challenge but both are very fun,” Goldsmith remarked. “When we’re playing in front of ELO or something like that, you might see me introducing the band over and over and over or introduce songs in a way that I might not at our own show, whereas, at a show for 500 people in a theater, these are our core fans, they’re gonna embrace whatever song we play from any of our records, which is a real gift, but also they’re gonna be paying attention to the nuances and the details in a way that keeps us engaged at all times.
“Not that we’re not engaged at all times at the big show, but at the big show it’s more about energy and size. We’re trying to reach to the people in the back, whereas the smaller shows are about space and nuance and details. One isn’t better than the other, but it definitely is a difference that has to be curated with each venue.”
Reaching people from the stage and on record is Dawes’ main job. The band has done it well enough to not have to do meet-and-greets and record store sets. So, why do they still do it, I ask?
“I think it’s because we’re lucky enough to have the fans that we have. If we didn’t have our fans that understand that dynamic as well as I believe they do then I wouldn’t really want to. But the reality is, I get the impression from our fans that yeah, we don’t have to go to Cactus Records, we don’t have to go sign a bunch of stuff. The fact that it doesn’t feel required for our relationship allows us all to feel more comfortable – and not only feel more comfortable but we want to do it more because we’re dealing with people we can be chummy with and friendly with.
“If it did feel like, ‘You gotta do this or people are gonna be angry at you,…” then I would be like, ‘Man, when is this gonna be over?’” he continued. “I trust and believe if I’m having a night where I wanna go play on stage but after that I wanna just go to the bus and just be quiet and save my voice or call my girl or just do nothing, I feel very grateful and really believe that a Dawes fan isn’t going to judge or isn’t going to care.
“I think it’s a very mature attitude towards the band. Maybe I’m projecting too much onto our fans but I really believe, and I’ve said it on stage, when I look out at our fans I think these are the kinds of people I’d be friends with if I lived here.”
I ask about the latest album, Passwords. Thematically, it’s about relationships in the modern era, how we engage with people, particularly those whose ideas oppose ours. It’s a timely and critical work for present day America, I note.
“I’m from L.A., I’m an artist, you know, it’s not hard to imagine that I’m a liberal, but I also want to be sensitive to how these conversations are conducted. I think if you came over and left a dirty bowl in my sink and I turned around and said, ‘Hey, man, fuck you!’ it wouldn’t engender a conversation in which you would potentially say, ‘You know what? You’re right, that wasn’t nice of me to do.’ No one would do that. Everyone would conduct that conversation in a way where it’s like, 'Hey, can we talk about the fact that this isn’t how I like to do it and can you understand that, does that make sense? And do you have anything that you want to say to me?' and then move forward.
“And the fact that people are so goddamn mad – and for good reason – that they lose that sense of a civil discussion. I’m guilty of it too and I don’t even blame anybody. But I also feel in order to get back to some sense of uniting on certain thoughts, or at least accepting people for who they are, it requires that bowl-in-the-sink kind of attitude – hey, just letting you know I want to just open this up for a dialogue.
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Goldsmith boils our disagreements down to fear and love, specifically fear of how to protect those we love, “whether that’s your family that works in a coal mine in West Virginia or whether that’s the people in this caravan coming up through Mexico – these people are worthy of love and I don’t give a shit who you are and how you feel once that point is made. Some people would hear me say that and say, ‘Well, you’re not thinking about this or that.’ And I might say, ‘Well, you’re not thinking about this or that.’ And maybe both of us are wrong or both of us are right; but, we lose sense of the fact that this isn’t coming from an ugly place.”
We turn back to those Dawes identifies with best, the fans who have embraced the music and are sharing it with others. Is it difficult to stay close to them as they gain notoriety in the industry and accolades from music legends like Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen?
“Not at all,” Goldsmith said. “Bruce Springsteen is the perfect example. When you talk to people that have crossed paths with him, he introduces himself by his first and last name. He doesn’t assume anything. And he treats every musician that he comes across as a fellow musician, as someone that’s fighting the same fight he is, he feels just as lucky as anybody else for what he’s gotten. And you can tell by the way he conducts himself. He’s not a crazy rock star with a sordid past, he’s a workhorse. You could read all the books and interviews and he’s not trying to present himself as some tortured soul. Sure, he has his darkness, as we all do, but he’s someone who’s working on himself and he bears his soul in a way that always feels genuine, that feels like him. But, if he can be his true self and if he can constantly remind himself to be present and be grateful, then Dawes definitely can.”
Dawes returns to Houston — a favored city — 7 p.m. Sunday, November 4 at the Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th Street. $34.50, all ages.